You are on page 1of 28


21 February 2013
Your rarely published guide to whats happening in and around Bishkek

Restaurant Guide Tourist Map Latest News
Plus: Chauvenists, doctors, cyclists, strippers
Belgians, pub quizzes and stones that speak...
This Month

The Spektator is now online at
Restaurants, Bars, Clubs
All the best bars and clubs in town.
The Guide
News and Views
Dog culls and languague-grappling la-
bor migrants, plus columns from Antony
DAvirro and Dina Tokbaeva.
TheSpektator Magazineis availableat locations throughout Bishkek, including: (Travel Agencies) Adventure Seller, Ak-Sai Travel, Carlson Wagonlit, Celestial Mountains, Ecotour, Glavtour,Kyrgyz Concept,
Kyrgyz Travel, Muza, NoviNomad (Bars & Restaurants) Hollywood, Metro, New York Pizza, No1, 2x2, Boulevard, Coeehouse, Doka, Fatboys, Four Seasons, Live Bar, Lounge Bar, Meri,
Navigator, Stary Edgars Veranda, Adriatico, Cyclone, Dolce Vita, Santa Maria, Bella Italia (Casinos) Europa, Golden Dragon, XO (Hotels) Dostuk, Hyatt, Golden Dragon, Holiday, Alpinist
(Embassies and Organisations) The UN building, The American base, The German Embassy, The Dutch Consulate, CAMP Ala-too, NCCR, The Bishkek Opera & Ballet Society.
ON THE COVER: Tintin, like all middle-aged Belgian
males and the Spektator, is not the man he used to be.
The Spektator Magazine
Founder: Tom Wellings
Guest Editor: Antony DAvirro (edi-
Sta writers: Alex Ward, Robert
Marks, Thomas Olsen, Dennis Keen
(keenonkyrgyzstan@thespektator., Palmer Keen, Holly Myers,
Evan Harris, Jika T, Adeline Bell (Ade-,
Patrick Barrow, Dina Tokbaeva, Alice
Janvrin, Sergey Vysotsky
Guest Contributor: Vladimir Petrov
Design: Hvare Firouzeh
Advertising Manager: Irina Kasymova
This issue of the Spektator is
dedicated to the memory of
Jerey Alan Wilson
Want to contribute as a freelance
writer? Please contact:
Dating Expert on Dating Expats
We talk to a seasoned hussy about the best
and worst the expat world has to oer.
Love and Life
A Mans World?
Local writer Jika T rips into the patriarchal
environment of a Kyrgyz marriage. Ouch.
You Must Come With Respect
An opinon piece from Melissa Stourbridge
headlines our round up of things that
never happened, but might.
The News That Never Was
Out & About
Rack Thy Brains
We were depressed by the temporary
absence in pub quizzes following the dis-
appearance of Vis-a-Vis, but now we have
found a new gig at Dragons Den.
Body & Soul
The Marathon Lasts a Hundred Years
Thomas Olsen recalls with typical lyricism
an epic marathon he ran around Issyk-Kul.
Well, part-ran at least.
Casualties of Poverty and Politics
Adeline Bell talks to Bishkeks doctors,
nurses and patients to lift the lid on a
crumbling domestic health system.
When the Stones Speak
The Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan tell us
about Saimaluu-Tash, probably the best
place to see petroglyphs in the country.
The End
Goodbye Beerlooga?
When the Spektator rst started back in
2008, its base of operations was an odor-
ous ale pit called Beerlooga. Now, with
news of the drinking holes multiple reloca-
tions and eventual demise, we recall some
fond memories of the place some referred
to simply as Antons bar.
City Map
Dont get lost.
The Red Light Guide
Our one-o review of the citys naughty
February 2013 The Spektator
4 This Month
Kyrgyzstan: Labor Migrants Grapple
with Russian-Language Requirement
The Maya were wrong. So were the predic-
tions of Francis Fukuyama, Hegel and Karl
Marx. Because history, it would seem, never
As it pours forwards (or is that back-
wards?) with a pounding monotony, it only
accumulates more wrinkles, more enemies,
more lost hairs and grey hairs, more clotted
arteries from shashlyk fat, more splitting
headaches from cognac, more coup detats
- successful and abortive - more hubris, the
odd brutal reckoning with a truth foreshad-
owing disaster, a momentary collapse, a nap
in the gutter.
Then it picks itself up again, rewritten
and rebranded, but with the same paranoia
and misplaced sense of self-importance it
always had.
The upshot of this is that every so often,
amidst the prolonged bouts of sufering and
occasional kindness that humans infict on
other humans, you get a completely free is-
sue of Bishkeks favourite tourist magazine,
with all the half-arsed journalism, tasteless
humour and occasional tourist tips that en-
tails. Normally, like this one, it arrives later
than it is supposed to.
The Spektator, as some of you are aware, en-
dured its own brush with apocalypse back
in 2011. But for the moment at least, like
Tintin and Captain Haddock, we are back,
albeit without CGI to smooth over our physi-
cal and psychological faws, and minus the
fnancial might of a Steven Spielberg block-
buster to fund our resurrection. By the way,
if you are enjoying reading this dross, Steve,
hang us a line at,
and well give you our bank details. Thanks
in advance, mate.
So what do we have this month? Well,
turn the pages, and if you are a regular read-
er of the National Geographic, lower the ex-
pectation bar a little. We continue to be the
only Kyrgyzstan-centred publication written
in English by the people for the people, but
as with American democracy, that doesnt
always guarantee any minimum standard
of quality. As we understand Valentines day
has just passed, we have a loose love theme
this episode, loose in this sense encom-
passing everything from a local feminists
laments about local men, through strip bar
reviews and dating guides, as well as things
that have no conceivable romantic content
whatsoever: impoverished doctors, stone-
gazing, gruelling marathons and a round up
of news that never happened.
At the risk of saying something use-
ful, we have given our restaurant guide a
lick of paint, so be sure to check out both
the abridged version on pages 24 & 25,
and the full one at www.thespektator. This is very much a work in prog-
ress that requires your input so we will
be very grateful of any mini-reviews, (50-
100 words) you can provide, especially for
nightclubs since we try to be home before
it gets dark these days. Again, any emails
BISHKEK, February 1 ( - Kany-
bek Bekmurzaev, 32, has a goal this winter. Home
from Moscow to visit his elderly mother in south-
ern Kyrgyzstan, hes using the time to memorize
irregular Russian verbs.
New legislation requiring the millions of Cen-
tral Asian migrant laborers in Russia to speak Rus-
sian is worrying Bekmurzaev. As his familys main
breadwinner for three years, hes worked as a
bus driver in Moscow he knows he had better
learn the language.
Its a task thats not so easy to accomplish.
As a young man growing up in post-Soviet Kyr-
gyzstan, he never had the opportunity to learn
the language properly, unlike members of his
mothers generation. My boss told me and other
drivers who dont speak Russian well that without
good Russian we might lose our jobs, said Bek-
murzaev, who returns to his hamlet of Karatai,
near Osh, each December for a month or two.
Under Kyrgyzstans Constitution, both Rus-
sian and Kyrgyz enjoy the status of ofcial lan-
guages. But the use of Russian is fading. Since
independence in 1991, the quality of education
has fallen dramatically. In the post-Soviet era,
schools no longer place as much emphasis on the
language. In addition, over half a million native
Russian speakers ethnic Russians, Kyrgyz and
others, among them the countrys most educated
have left.
All the while, Kyrgyzstans economy has been
in free-fall. No one knows for sure, but perhaps
800,000 people, or 30 percent of Kyrgyzstans
able-bodied population, work abroad. Many are
seasonal workers like Bekmurzaev; most go to
Russia. Their remittances, according to the World
Bank, total the equivalent of 30 percent of Kyr-
gyzstans GDP.
But when migrants arrive in cities like Mos-
cow, Novosibirsk and St. Petersburg, they realize
that Kyrgyzstans dilapidated schools have failed
to deliver a needed skill: the ability to speak Rus-
sian. Bekmurzaev, who has three children and a
wife in Karatai, says that in Kyrgyzstan it is dif-
cult to fnd a job good enough to feed my family.
Bekmurzaev hopes one day to move his family
permanently to Moscow.
On December 1, the Russian Federation be-
gan requiring labor migrants working in service
industries shopkeepers, plumbers, and street
cleaners, for example to pass a Russian lan-
guage test to receive work permits.
Several factors afect migration [out of Kyr-
gyzstan], including the political situation, and
peoples desire to provide a better education and
future for their children, Victor Kharchenko, the
frst secretary at the Russian Embassy in Bishkek,
told The number of people wish-
ing to leave for the Russian Federation fuctuates
depending on the season and political events in
this country.
With poverty increasing about 3 percent a
year, ongoing political turbulence, and little hope
for Kyrgyzstans moribund economy, few believe
the exodus will slow. Meanwhile, the Kyrgyz par-
liaments eforts to enforce the use of the Kyrgyz
language at the expense of Russian are viewed
by many as counterproductive because it does
not equip young Kyrgyz for potentially working
in Russia.
In recent years, for example, Russian-speak-
ing ethnic Kyrgyz MPs have been harassed and
publicly shamed by their colleagues for not
speaking Kyrgyz. Russian speakers, ethnic Kyrgyz
and Russians alike, say the eforts to discourage
the use of Russian threatens to leave Kyrgyzstan
The Russian Federation needs our migrants,
but its authorities require knowledge of the Rus-
sian language, Irina Karamushkina, an ethnic
Russian MP who has long advocated for the rights
of Kyrgyzstans dwindling Russian-speaking com-
munity, told So, there is nothing
surprising that many citizens of Kyrgyzstan have
started attending Russian language courses.
Across the country, from remote Batken
Province to Bishkek, demand for those classes is
increasing. These days in Batken, more people
who want to migrate to Russia have begun learn-
ing Russian, Berdi Sadikov, the executive director
of the Batken Adult Training Center, an NGO, told Our migrants need Russian lan-
guage skills.
Sadikov says that students pay 3,000 soms
(about $63) for a three-month course. Our cus-
tomers have three lessons a week, and they learn
not only to speak, but also to read and write in
Russian. Their main motivation is to fnd employ-
ment in Russia, he said.
Even on the streets of Bishkek, once a pre-
dominantly Russian-speaking city, Russian is
heard far less today than it was even three years
ago. Migrants from rural areas often do not speak
the language at all. One of the reasons why use
of the Russian language has declined is mass
migration, when Russian speakers started leav-
ing the country at the beginning of the 90s, Igor
Shestakov, an analyst in Bishkek, told EurasiaNet.
According to government statistics, there
were 916,500 ethnic Russians in the country in
1989, comprising 21.5 percent of the population
at the time. By 2012, the number had fallen to
381,561, or 6.9 percent of the population. Anoth-
er factor is reduction in Russian language teach-
ing at schools and universities, lack of qualifed
teachers, teaching materials and books, Shesta-
kov said.
The trend is prompting resentment in the
ethnic Russian community, encouraging yet
more migration. Though the Constitution de-
fnes Russian as an ofcial language, in reality,
Kyrgyz and Russian are not treated equally, Svet-
lana Sharova, the vice chairperson of Union of
Russian Compatriots in Kyrgyzstan, a lobbying
group, told Ethnic Russians have
been leaving the country, and I am pretty sure
they will keep leaving due to the lack of jobs, a
difcult economic situation, and discrimination
against the Russian language.
The End of History? February 2013 The Spektator
5 This Month
BISHKEK, February 14 (
A case involving a pet hoarder and pilfered
pooches has become somewhat of a cause
clbre in Kyrgyzstan.
Valeri Polovnikov, a 56-year-old part-time
mechanic living in an apartment in Bishkeks
12th micro-region, claims that just before the
New Year police and representatives of the
city pest-control service broke into his flat and
took away seven dogs while he was at work.
The canines, Polovnikov contends, were then
brutally murdered, dispatched with gunshots
at the city dump. Neighbors offer a different
narrative, saying Polovnikov hoarded stray
animals. The dogs created a nuisance with pro-
longed barking, and their confiscation was jus-
tifiable because authorities were acting in the
publics best interest, they assert.
The incident has raised ire among animal
rights activists who have long accused the
Shooting Service working out of the citys
waste management department, Tazalyk, of
being inhumane, unaccountable and involved
in the local economy for dog-hide products.
The Bishkek Mayors Office maintains that
shooting stray dogs is a regrettable but cost-
effective means for the impoverished state to
protect citizens from a 200,000-strong stray
population that authorities cannot afford to
sterilize, or otherwise contain.
With regular press reports of strays bit-
ing children, feral dogs have few friends in
Bishkek. According to the Mayors Office,
Tazalyk shot 12,406 dogs in 2012, all based on
citizens complaints. Shooters receive 300 som
(about $6.25) per dog, creating, some say, an
incentive to kill animals that are not necessar-
ily homeless.
While Polovnikov admits he violated a city
regulation that limits two dogs to an apart-
ment, he maintains that only one of the dogs,
a half-paralyzed mongrel he rescued, was a
stray. I had [official documents] for the other
six and intended to give all of them away as
soon as I found loving homes, he said.
So far, Polovnikovs written statements
have not led, as he hopes, to a criminal case.
He argues that prosecutors are reluctant to
get involved because a police officer was also
complicit in the act, a claim verified by three
During a February 9 visit to Polovnikovs
apartment, a correspondent
saw that the door was damaged and its lock
broken proof, says Polovnikov, of forced
entry. When contacted for comment, Bolot
Koykeldiyev, head of Tazalyks Shooting Serv-
ice admitted that two Tazalyk staffers had vis-
ited the address following a neighbors com-
plaint, but denied breaking and entering: The
door was wide open and the dogs were run-
ning around the apartment block.
Kyrgyzstan: Are Bishkeks Dog Culls
About People or Profit?
Koykeldiyev, whose service was estab-
lished in 2008, says his office has grown used
to criticism, but argues that it should be re-
directed toward irresponsible dog owners
who permit their canines roam the streets.
In a country as poor as ours, we cannot af-
ford to feed homeless people, let alone house
and feed hundreds of thousands of homeless
dogs, he said, adding that he was skeptical
about the viability of a scheme announced
by Vice Mayor Vyacheslav Krasienko on Janu-
ary 29 to create a $350,000-a-year shelter and
sterilization service.
Despite friction between Koykeldiyevs of-
fice and animal-rights organizations such as
the Bishkek-based Right to Life a privately
funded non-profit that offers sterilization and
temporary shelter services for strays both
agree that a shelter operated by the city would
not solve the dog problem.
In former Soviet countries, whatever can
be stolen is stolen, argued Alla Kobtsova, one
of Right to Lifes three founders. In a municipal
shelter for stray dogs this would mean steal-
ing money for food, money for sterilization and
money for medicine these animals would just
die a slow death.
But anything is preferable to the current
culls, Kobtsova adds. The killings immunize
society toward cruelty to animals without sig-
nificantly stemming the growth of the stray
population. Moreover, she believes vested in-
terests are behind the shootings: We believe
[Tazalyk] disposes of a certain portion of the
bodies, and sells a portion as hides and meat.
She suspects some restaurants are clients.
Koykeldiyev strenuously insists the dog
corpses are dumped in a sanitary pit at the
municipal landfill, and points to the fact that
of eight marksmen working in his team most
own dogs themselves, and only one dislikes
them. Moreover, Koykeldiyev said, none of
the citys numerous Korean restaurants would
ever accept street dogs as meat.
Traders at Bishkeks Alamedin Bazaar con-
firm that demand for dog-hide products, most-
ly in the form of midriff-warming sashes (for
the kidneys) and shoe liners, does exist. Zulya
Narynbekova, who sells both, says the kidney
warmers, which retail at around $30, are par-
ticularly popular with her fellow traders, who
spend all day hustling in the cold. The hides
retain heat better than felt, Narynbekova ex-
plained. Others sell sobachnoye maslo dog
oil which is thought to treat chest infections
and tuberculosis.
But while talking up the warmth of her
wares, Narynbekova claimed she had no idea
where the hides are sourced. I dont deal with
the skinners. Just the middlemen, she said.
But I know the dogs are local. Most probably
they are local strays.
My Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan is like a seashell left undiscov-
ered and unknown until picked up. After-
wards it takes a prominent place in ones
home, offering up the inimitable sound
of authentic Central Asian beauty when
placed next to the ear.
Some say the only way to avoid a Kyr-
gyz crisis is by taking the road to Manas
Airport, and having seen two revolutions
here, I suppose they are right. But the very
same people, whether local or foreign, are
always members of the I love Bishkek and
I love Kyrgyzstan groups on various social
networks, and feel the countrys nostalgic
pull no matter where they are in the world.
It is also said that the Kyrgyz people trust in
nothing at all but always hope for the best.
And, with a near 100% literacy rate and the
highest internet penetration rate in Central
Asia according to
(34%), Kyrgyzstan remains one of the most
informed and potent societies in the re-
gion. Taking a taxi ride anywhere in the city,
you are likely to become party to the latest
political gossip, as well as grander theories
about love, life, and the world.
In Bishkek youll have a hard time
finding a bio-toilet but you may go out in
search of a midnight snack and get it from
an unassuming metal kiosk. In the spring
you might be surprised at the sight of kids
playing with toy ships in the crystal-clear
glacial water that floods the citys irrigation
canals. In summer you might find the same
kids wallowing in the big fountains at Ala-
Too Square and next to State Philharmonic
If youre a woman, you may find it hard
to walk in heels in Bishkek, as once outside
the centre, the sidewalks are full of holes.
If youre man, you may just compliment
women who still manage to do it in spite of
all the obstacles.
Finally, in Kyrgyzstan youll find out the
meaning of a phrase There is no such mu-
seum as nature, as the nature Kyrgyzstan
has to offer is unrivalled! And the closest
nature park is just 30 minutes away from
the city centre; any cab can take you there.
The famous never-freezing second largest
mountainous lake in the world is just three
hours drive from Bishkek. Indeed, the Kyr-
gyz capital is the ideal base, throwing the
door open on a country full of non-Wi-Fi
spots where you drink in mountain views,
embrace walnut trees, and taste kumiz, the
fruit of the jailoo. So leave your phone silent
(theres probably no connection anyway),
take a break from the madness and just be
a Spektator!
Dina Tokbaeva is a Kyrgyz journalist and
former Regional Editor of the Institute for War
and Peace Reporting (IWPR) for Central Asia
in Bishkek.
February 2013 The Spektator
6 This Month
Dating Expert on Dating Expats: It was an Education, I suppose!
BISHKEK, February 12, (SPEKTATOR) - Ahead
of Valentines Day, Spektator authors Winston
Olsen and Adeline Bell teamed up with sharp-
tongued, seasoned ex-pat dating expert, Altynom
Flirtova, to give you ladies some clues about the
type of expat you are likely to meet on romantic
encounters here in the modern-day Babylon of
Bishkek. Quick piece of advice, girls; if you are
looking for wining and dining, go to Almaty.
Type A: English teacher
Wage: $1,000/month, 500 soms/hour for private
Most likely to: Impregnate his student.
AF says: I met type A during a 3-month intensive
language course at the [school deleted]. He had a
two-year beard and still smelt of his most recent
gap year in India, but I loved the way he talked
about defnite and indefnite articles. After a brief
fing in his stinky dormitory he broke it of, telling
me he was used to girls half my age. I was only 27
at the time!
Type B: Bar owner
Wage: Anything from mega money to minus
Most likely to: Get your drink, because he can.
AF says: This one is defnitely a double-edged
sword. On the one hand, he is always where the
party is at; on the other hand, the party never fric-
king stops. If you ever share your life with type B
youll have to get used to the taste of alkazelser
tablets and English fry-ups, while it will always be
tough to persuade him to go on health-improv-
ing hikes in the mountains. Nevertheless, type B
has a certain charm about him and remains an at-
tractive target mostly for bent policemen and
tax inspectors.
Type C: The local ex-pat
Wage: 1000-1,500 Euros/month
Most likely to: Refuse a plate of steaming hot be-
shbarmak with snobbish deference.
AF says: Not really an ex-pat but after spending
six years in Switzerland he certainly thinks he is. I
was attracted to type C because we spoke a com-
mon language accentless English - and sufered
the shared fate of working admin jobs we were
vastly overqualifed for at the [international or-
ganization deleted]. But his European airs started
to rub me up the wrong way. His views on gen-
der equality even extended to splitting the bill,
which he called laddition, and he eventually left
home again for an MBA program in Texas. He now
speaks with a southern drawl, yall.
Type D: Contractor
Wage: Enough for a bottle of Jack and then some.
Most likely to: Let of steam after a day of uncon-
scious participation in the geopolitical machina-
tions of the Manas air base, ahem, Transit Centre.
AF says: Type D was wild. Our frst date was very
romantic. He tied me to the bonnet of his pickup
truck and made love to me with Metallicas Mas-
ter of Puppets album blasting out of the stereo.
Then we drove out into the countryside and went
gofer hunting. But I was soon put of him by lo-
cal news reports concerning his activities at the
base. Apparently they poison our water, curse our
traditions and ruin our local women! Who would
have thought?
Type E: Permanent Student
Wage: Whatever he can scam of debt-ridden
Western governments.
Most likely to: Stif you with the bar bill after hes
scabbed all your cigarettes.
AF says: I enjoyed my time with this man of lei-
sure (dont you mean learning?- ed.) and he had
certainly done his research, if you know what I
mean! But it was difcult for us to dine at the Hy-
att on his PhD stipend and I called it quits when
he started saving money on deodorant. It was an
education, I suppose!
Type F: Kumtors Wife
Wage: Her husband has two-thirds of the coun-
trys gold in his garage.
Most likely to: Forget which country shes in.
AF says: By far the best in bed of the lot. Her well-
dressed appearances at the Bishkek International
Womens society and manicured expat chit-chat
disguised a rapacious sexual appetite. Like her
greedy miner husband, she just couldnt get
enough. It broke my heart when she moved back
to wherever it was that she came from, sacrifc-
ing our torrid, passionate afair for the comforts of
the marital mansion. She promised to remember
me in her will. Will she?
Type G: Independent Tourist Mag Publisher
Wage: Rarely breaks even, to be honest.
Most likely to: Get punched in the face by an-
other expat.
AF says: Chiselled good looks, a fantastic self-
deprecating sense of humour and decent knowl-
edge of the best places to eat and drink in Bishkek
(my insertion ed.), Type E nevertheless rarely had
the means to take me out to any of them. Was he
the one that got away? Only ever as far as a flthy
underground hovel called Beerloga (see p26).
In the end I was looking for more pleasant sur-
roundings and a bigger fnancial commitment, so
I ditched him for an intern working at the Times
of Central Asia.
February 2013 The Spektator
Out & About
HY DOES LOVE remain our favour-
ite subject, despite all the heart-
ache it brings? Perhaps because
sometimes the miserable moments
are compensated for by those
unexplainable fashes of joy and warmth we feel
when things go well in relationships even if those
moments are rare and feeting. Certainly unhappy
couples can be found everywhere. The question
is what makes such couples stay together despite
their unhappiness? It may be for those rare joyful
moments, or it might
be that people get
used to each other and
are scared of change,
or is it something else?
I recently had an
unplanned meeting
with my friend Elvira
who asked me to join her and her friend for dinner.
It was the frst time Id met Elviras friend, a very nice-
looking young woman in her thirties called Aidai.
While I was going through the menu Aidai was com-
plaining to my friend about how badly life was treat-
ing her. It seemed to me that this had been the topic
of conversation for quite some time before I arrived,
and it was probably the reason Elvira had asked me
to join them she was likely feeling overwhelmed.
So now it was two of us hearing out Aidais com-
plaints about life. Briefy, her problems concerned
her husband who for many years had made a habit
of turning up early in the morning after outings to
saunas or pool halls with his (married) friends, and
telling Aidai to keep quiet about it whenever she
objected. More to the point, she had heard about
or even seen him in the company of other women
frequently, but again, she apparently had no right to
protest. After all, he was a male, plus he provided for
the family! The sad story continued for over an hour,
and the air was flled with so much desperation that
it was hard to stand. I fnally expressed an opinion
that if I were her I would probably leave, rather than
stay with someone who had made me unhappy
every day for so long. She said she would never leave
because she had a child and especially because she
was already thirty-two. Who else would need me
except my husband. And those women are all tem-
porary, just physical; he wont divorce me anyway, at
least because of our child.
I wish I could say her attitude surprised me. Un-
fortunately this situation is too typical in local life to
be surprising or even upsetting.
Many women in this city do not know their
real worth. But how are they supposed to know
it when the men they meet do their best to prove
to them how insignifcant they are and how eas-
ily they can be replaced? Can these women be
blamed? If not, does this mean it is mens fault?
But can men be blamed when such behaviour is
Perhaps it starts with the enabling environ-
ment created by the fact that the number of eli-
gible females signifcantly outweighs the number
of eligible males. In these
conditions, how possible
is it for a woman to re-
fne her search criteria?
Basically, if a gorgeous
woman is dating a not-so
gorgeous man despite his
cheating and ignorance,
most probably it is not because he is a special, ex-
clusive type, but because she is just trying to adapt
to the local context. Now consider the opposite:
if the number of eligible men was far greater than
the number of eligible female residents, would Aid-
ai stay with her cheating husband? Or would she
have even married him in the frst place? After all
he would be just a run-of-the-mill guy with a repu-
table belly, maintained over the years by a lifelong
commitment to extensive beer intakes over games
of billiards, or lounging in the sauna.
This environment is further enhanced by
family attitudes and society as a whole. Appar-
ently, when a woman gets married, thats when
she becomes a normal member of society. Thats
when she fnds her place in the sun. Once she is
married she is better staying in marriage no mat-
ter what. Tolerance is what local women are very
well trained in since childhood (and guess who
provides the training!). Otherwise: What would
people think of our family?, Think of the shame!,
or, Who would accept you after that?
It looks like, at least for the most part, the
tolerance shown by local women is a product of
their fear of being left without a man (since men
are few in number, and if missed are quickly taken
by other women) or by not wanting to disappoint
their families. But does having someone by your
side really compensates for remaining dissatisfed
with life? And is it worth being unhappy merely in
order to please relatives or conform to society? If
adapting is more a sacrifce than a compromise,
can it be compatible with having a life?
Jika T, a young Kyrgyz woman who works
in Bishkek, gives her view on life and love
in the city.
Above Right Family evening in, or a night in the
Below A reputable belly doesnt stop a man
from landing a girl way out of his league in the
Kyrgyz Republic (archive)
Love & Life
Her problems concerned her hus-
band who for many years had made a
habit of turning up early in the morn-
ing after outings to saunas
World? February 2013 The Spektator
9 Dont get lost

s a
s a









A. Usenbaeva
a O
s a

February 2013 The Spektator
10 The News That Never Was
S I GAZE at the lines in Nurlans face it
seems like each one holds his memo-
ries and his wisdom. We sip our tea,
reverentially served in ornate bowls,
and I refect on the last few weeks in
my life, which seems so short and ephemeral in
comparison to his.
After just escaping the whirlwind of the uni-
versity summer term, the huge stress of exams
and then the exhausting round of balls and gar-
den parties, most of my friends thought that I was
completely mad to be jumping straight into my
next challenge a summer internship with an
NGO in Kyrgyzstan. My mother sits on the board
of a cultural heritage charity in Sufolk, so she
put me in touch with one of her acquaintances
in the International Development scene, Helmut
Hinklehoof, head of one of the best-know NGOs
out here in Central Asia.
Over a crackling phone line he told me that
with my Masters degree, Strengthening Gover-
nance through Informal Structures, I could really
help out with their community engagement pro-
gram, which involved building justice capacity in
rural Kyrgyzstan through partnerships between
state ofcials and informal leaders. He also said
something about a young frulein brightening
up the ofce, and his divorce, but I couldnt see
the relevance to developing justice structures in
Kyrgyzstan. Perhaps it got lost in translation he
is German, after all!
So, after a whirlwind trip through Bishkek, I
found myself in rural Kyrgyzstan, interviewing a well-
known local fgure, widely respected for dispute ar-
bitration in his community - Nurlan Corleonov.
Mr Corleonov, I asked, with much of the
Kyrgyz state structure in retreat, can respected
informal leaders such as yourself fll the gap in
justice provision to the community?
That we can do, but people must come to us
with respect. Some people come to me and say
Nurlan Corleonov, you must give me justice. But
they dont ask in respect or friendship. They dont
even think to call me baike.
I listen closely, fascinated by his story. With
bittersweet emotions Im reminded of how little
importance we place on respect in the commu-
nity in our own hectic Western lifestyles.
When I give a man justice, Nurlan continues,
then some day, and that day may never come, I
may call upon him to do me a service in return.
That is how he may repay me for doing what he
asks of me, knowing that I cannot refuse a man on
the day of my daughters bride-napping.
For me, this was an inspiring example of the
social contract at work - empowering local com-
munities through reciprocal justice modalities.
I was particularly interested in the way in which
informal justice structures synergised with state
actors, and I explored this dynamic with Nurlan.
The police and I must all drink from the same
well, he explained. The most important thing is
that everyone must get their cut. Otherwise my
son Mikael will have to gun down Chief of Police
McCluskov, then murder that prostitute to keep
the Senator quiet.
I was intrigued by this explanation. I could
only assume that Nurlan was talking about shar-
ing the burden of justice provision between of-
cial and informal leaders, but I needed to explore
this issue further. I turned to Mr Hinklehoof for
Yes yes, he assured me. This sort of thing is
quite normal in Kyrgyzstan. This is sehr gut proj-
ect, with lots of ze fashionable buzzwords. The
Americans will, how you say, gush ze pants when
they read our funding proposal. And that means
plenty more money for International Develop-
ment Action - the steaks are on me!
Reassured by his enthusiasm, I return to con-
templating Nurlans wise, weather-worn face. I
felt like my adventure in Kyrgyzstan was just be-
ginning, and I had many more rewarding expe-
riences to come. With donor support for people
like Nurlan, I felt sure that it couldnt be long be-
fore Kyrgyzstan reaped the rewards.
You must
This winter the role of informal justice pro-
viders in Kyrgyz society was much in the
news. So, the Spektator has invited a guest
writer, Melissa Stourbridge, to share her
experiences on the subject. Ms Stourbridge
has an MA in Informal Governance, and is
currently working in Kyrgyzstan as an intern
with the NGO International Development
Above Marlon Brando reportedly turned
down oers to do a Kyrgyz take on the
MELISSA STOURBRIDGE February 2013 The Spektator
11 The News That Never Was
BISHKEK, February 12 (Spektator) Senio-
representatives of the renowned Belgian Um-
brella Fund for Learning, Stafng, Herding and
IT Training (BUFLSHITT) surprised reporters at
a press conference on Monday by announcing
that the organization would be withdrawing
funding for two fagship projects in the coun-
trys regions.
From now on we will be focusing our Eu-
ros on the part of Kyrgyzstan that needs it most,
said BUFLSHITTs Kyrgyzstan country director
Wilhelm Vanderboog: Our ofce in Bishkek.
Vanderboog explained that projects training
pastoralists in data-controlled fock management
and encouraging the rural unemployed to like
BUFLSHITTs Facebook page would still exist in
name, but that the funds originally earmarked for
them would be redirected towards Self-Enrich-
ment Programs (SEPs) for core BUFLSHITT staf.
This is part of our SSD [Self-Sustainability
Drive] and an integral element of our long-term
GOTH-WBC [Get the hell OuT of Here - With Big
Cash] strategy, said Vanderboog. We are sick of
throwing money we could be spending on our-
selves into black holes like Naryn, the country
director added.
Deputy Director Natasha Fedorenko said
implementing GOTH-WBC would require a RAP
(Rapid Adaptation Phase) for rural folk who
would have to DET (Do Everything Themselves)
on their path to collective empowerment. This
will teach villagers to develop vital coping strate-
gies, and stand on their own two feet, said Fedo-
renko, clearly enthused. Our focus for now is on
capacity-building without bricks these guys will
really have to sing for their supper, she declared.
BISHKEK, February 10 (Spektator) - After
going on something of a ban binge in recent
months, the Kyrgyz parliament has voted to place
a moratorium on placing a moratorium on things.
But civil liberty advocates argue that the MPs
have authoritarianism in their blood and that the
ban on bans will not last more than a week.
Speaking to the parliamentary press corps
on Thursday, Tursunbek Bar uulu, an ultra-con-
servative MP nicknamed the Ban Baron by hu-
man rights activists, admitted that the decision
to stop illegalizing everything should be under-
stood as a brief respite rather than a nod to indi-
vidual freedoms.
The ban on bans is more of a scarcity is-
sue than anything else. Just as the world is run-
ning out of oil, so the parliament is running out
of things to ban, Bar uulu explained solemnly.
MPs are afraid they might lose their reason to
exist, he confessed.
Restricting restrictions, legalizing hard drugs
Ravshan Svobodov, a rare liberal voice in the
legislature applauded the ban on bans, claim-
Belgian NGO Introduces New Acronyms, Cuts Development Aid
Protest Pay to Rise
with Infation
Parliament Votes to Ban Banning Stuf
Noting the fact that a new pilot scheme
would help BUFLSHITT buy a fresh wardrobe for
his 23-year old private secretary, Vanderboog
also promised that future press conferences
would be easier for journalists to digest.
Given the number of complex acronyms we
use, you plebs have absolutely no chance of un-
derstanding anything we say. So we are going to
produce a D.D [Development Dictionary] for our
key but largely uneducated stakeholders in the
media. Brussels has already pledged funds for
this, BUFLSHITTs country director concluded.
ing that the parliament had become a laugh-
ing stock in foreign countries for restricting
imports of goods the country had never im-
ported before and cracking down on obsolete
In December we blacklisted Chilean
beef without trying or testing it, and in spite
of the fact that we do not have any relations
with this country. Then, when the parliament
reconvened, Bar uulu proposed a ban on the
god Apollo, for which we were lamooned by a
well-known satirical magazine in Greece, the
MP complained at a parliamentary hearing.
Bar uulu acknowledged that some of the
bans had been facetious but said that the
current thaw in restrictive legislation would
prepare the population for more meaningful
clampdowns in a few months time.
Currently MPs are considering an act to
legalize crack cocaine. If that law is passed
then the public will understand the immedi-
ate need to ban the drug as soon as the effects
of addiction kick in, Bar uulu said. It is, after
all, a highly dangerous substance.
Above BUFLSHITT are staging a strategic retreat from Kyrgyzstans rural regions (archive)
BISHKEK, February 9 (Spektator) - Op-
position leaders held a kurultai, or peoples
assembly yesterday to discuss the increas-
ing costs of paying people to attend anti-
government demonstrations. Analysts es-
timated that the Kurultai must have cost
close to 1,000,000 soms in plov, yurts and
cash handouts.
Speaking in front of a crowd of 853
sellouts the opposition figure Tamchibek
Kashinev said that at least part of the cost
of funding protests should come out of the
state budget in the future.
If the President wants to continue fool-
ing international donors into thinking Kyr-
gyzstan has a democratic and pluralistic po-
litical system, then he should start picking up
the tab more often, Kashinev complained.
According to Kashinev and his ally
Madeyemurov the cost to the government in
backroom payments to halt protests will also
increase as the cost of basic foodstufs soars.
February 2013 The Spektator
12 Out & About
Den cafe in Bishkek and the answers of the
weekly Wednesday pub quiz are being read
out. Tension and the smell of scotch are in
the air. Were two points behind the f***ing
Jellybeans, says the ginger-headed captain of We
Thought it was a Disco, in reference to the team
whose quiz we are marking.
Captain Ginger, whose real name has been dis-
guised for fear of violent reprisal, takes pub quiz-
zes rather seriously. And he is not in the least bit
pleased that his unbeaten run in the Kyrgyz capital
is coming to an end thanks to the clueless crew he
has assembled this evening and the machinations
of the Jellybeans, who have got eight out of the
frst ten questions right.
I told you Kahluas main ingredient was cof-
fee! You made me write milk for f***s sake, he rag-
es, knocking his disappointment back with a shot
of Jonny Walkers Black Label. But the We Thought
it was a Disco founder isnt the only one feeling
the heat. The table across from us are clamouring
for justice: Can we have half a point for Korean
pop singer? ...We work in kilometres, not miles....
Ghana is almost Malawi!
But Ghana is not Malawi and Mike Atsoparthis,
owner of Dragons Den, is not having it. A frm but
fair quizmaster, Atsoparthis is Great Britains ex-
honorary consul in Kyrgyzstan and the ex-gafer
of Fatboys cafe. During his sixteen years in the
Central Asian country he has witnessed two revo-
lutions, a handful of coup attempts and countless
angry meetings, but most likely nothing close to
the fury boiling up inside our inconsolable captain.
Polaroid, Polaroid, Polaroid! What camera
was invented in 1948? I said a Polaroid. YOU said
a LOMO! This time the accusatory fnger is being
pointed at our Russian quiz colleague. He had sat
subdued downing whisky in the corner, occasion-
ally asking for questions to be translated. On the
few occasions he contributed responses he did so
forcefully, persuading Captain Ginger to cross out
the correct answer and replace it with an error.
If you heard a roar from the Dragons Den
caf last Wednesday it was probably a red-
haired punter losing his rag in the weekly
pub quiz. Why dont you head down to 557
Frunze and join him?
Later during the same night he vomited into one
of Dragons Dens bathroom sinks.
For my own part I was just pleased to be par-
ticipating in a pub quiz again. This age-old institu-
tion introduced by British proprietors in order to
entice punters to pubs between weekends has en-
joyed a sporadic history in the town named after
a whisk for stirring fermented mares milk. Indeed,
that there have been pub quizzes at all owes much
to the British pub-running section of the expatri-
ate community, spearheaded in sickness and in
health by the colossuses Rich, Dave and Mike.
But the questions for this one were tricky and
even the easy questions had a sting in the tail,
much to Captain Gingers objections. Take this one
for instance:
In Mongolia it is called a Ger, what is it called
in Kyrgyzstan?
A yurt? Apparently not. In fact, much to the
chagrin of a majority Kyrgyz team not far from us,
the felt construct which litters the countrys jailoos
in the summer is actually known as a boz uy. They
looked thoroughly bozzed when they found out
they had got that wrong!
But then as the quiz progressed, something
miraculous happened. We Thought it was a Disco
suddenly started picking up points, leading to
an exponential improvement in our red-haired
leaders mood. A series of half-guesses that read:
Pete Best, Bank of England director, colours of the
rainbow and Baron Manfred von Richthofen had
helped us draw level with our hated sugar-coated
rivals the Jellybeans, while groans coming from
around the room following the announcement
of answers to questions we had got right pointed
towards the slim possibility of an outright victory.
Alas, it was not to be. Just as Captain Ginger
was knocking back a pre-victory shot of Black Label
and preparing for the full restoration of his pub quiz
reputation we were hit by several sucker-punches.
Seemingly, nautical miles were longer than statute
miles, prisonwas not an acceptable substitute for a
psychiatric facility and E=MC squared was not suf-
cient as an answer to the question Can you explain
Einsteins Theory of Relativity?
Its a yes or no answer! Either you can explain
it or you cant! crowed Mike the quizmaster. Oh
well, house rules are house rules.
So that was it. Captain Ginger was left a broken
man, the f***ing Jellybeans emerged victorious,
and there was nothing left for us to do other than
order shots and ruminate on questions we should
have been able to answer but werent. A pub quiz,
much like Kyrgyz politics, is a winner takes all afair
(the prize this time round was a bottle of cham-
pers) and the only consolation for We Thought it
was a Disco was that it would happen next week,
same place, same time.
Dragons Den is located on Frunze 557, close to
Beirut restaurant (Frunze/Shevchenko)
Questions heard at the Den in recent weeks:
1.Rank these three famous communists in height
order, shortest to tallest: Chairman Mao, Stalin,
2. How do Zoroastrians dispose of their dead?
3. In Bishkek, which street lies between Moskovs-
kaya and Kievskaya?
4.What is a palindrome?
5. What is the only top 10 hit in the US or the UK
in which the song title AND band name were pal-
6. In 1961 the Soviets put a man into space. What
was his name?
7. In 1957 the Soviets put a dog into space. What
was its name?
Test Yourself
Above Blistering barnacles! I told you it was a f****** Polaroid (photo Herg)
A N S W E R S : 1 . M a o 1 8 1 c m , S t a l i n 1 6 5 c m , L e n i n 1 6 3 c m ; 2 . T h e y l e a v e t h e m
f o r t h e v u l t u r e s ; 3 . T o k t o g u l ; 4 . A w o r d o r p h r a s e t h a t r e a d s t h e s a m e b a c k -
w a r d s a n d f o r w a r d s ; 5 . A B B A S O S ; 6 . Y u r i G a g a r i n ; 7 . L a i k a
February 2013 The Spektator
Body and Soul
Kyrgyz friends you might at one point have
asked them where you should visit in Kyr-
gyzstan. Considering the diversity of the
country, the plethora of mountain passes,
gorges, lakes and valleys, you would expect
varied responses. This is rarely the case,
however. More often than not, they will respond
by asking have you been to Issyk-Kul yet? Once
you inform them that you have been to Issyk-Kul
(I myself had only been to the south shore, and
then stopped by the north on my way to Karakol
a few times) there is always a bit of a pause while
they think of another desirable destination.
I like Issyk-Kul and the surrounding moun-
tains (especially on the southern shore), but to
me it seemed a bit overrated (God spare your
heretical soul- ed.) compared to the other gems
of less repute littered around the Kyrgyz land-
scape. But with my time in Kyrgyzstan coming
to an end, I was determined to experience what
everyone else had - to fall in love with the Pearl of
Kyrgyzstan. Fate, in its weird way, had presented
me with an opportunity to do just that.
I saw my friend Anatoly one day. After ex-
changing the usual hi, how are yous and the like,
I casually brought up a certain boredom with life
and a desire to travel more around the country.
He asked me if I would be interested in running
around Issyk-Kul. My head reminded me that I
hadnt been terribly athletic here in Kyrgyzstan
and that my habit of drinking beer most days of
the week wouldnt serve me well running long
distances at high altitude. My heart, however, the
irrational half of a famed anthropomorphic tan-
dem, told me that it this would be a fun, physi-
cally and emotionally enriching experience. The
last time I had run in Bishkek I did about eight laps
at the Spartak stadium before incurring Medial
Tibial Stress Syndrom - shin splints to the layman
- that lasted for the rest of that week. Recklessly, I
signed up for the challenge.
We met the week after to discuss our plans. I
found out that it would be a group relay race, that
bikes and intermittent marshrutka rides would
also feature, and that we were raising money for
a local orphanage. Learning of this worthy cause
and a few key concessions, I accepted I would
rightfully be labeled a yellow-livered orphan-hat-
er if I backed out now.
Our team captain was a German by the name
of Martin. Under his Teutonic command was Bo-
lot, a Kyrgyz guy from the South, Anatoly, a Rus-
sian/Ukrainian from Issyk-Kul, Izat from Turkmeni-
stan, Tahir, a Pamir Kyrgyz from Tajikistan, Martins
wife and baby, Tahirs girlfriend, a cameraman
and his rollerblading daughter, and myself. With
our mobile melting pot switching back and forth
from Russian to English to Kyrgyz to German, the
non-linguists amongst us were already fagging
before the race had even started.
(Apparently a documentary was being made
about the race and specifcally our group, al-
though the whys and whats of this operation
were completely lost to me we just grimaced
periodically for the cameraman and his roller-
blading daughter).
The next day we headed out from Bishkek in
the evening, frst picking up the camera man, and
getting some food at a chaikhana. I had my last
beer before we set out - a Baltika 3 and we soon
arrived in Balykchy where the running would
Or at least it felt that way to Thomas Olsen,
who biked, ran, bussed and sweated his
way around Kyrgyzstans favourite lake, as
part of the First International Issyk-Kul Relay
Above Shots of Thomas feet legs and bike are
apparently more scenic than Issyk-Kul and its
surroundings (all photos Thomas Olsen) February 2013 The Spektator
Body and Soul
commence and conclude. I stretched and walked
about, waiting for 2 am to arrive so we could get
going. Running generally isnt described as the
most fun activity in the world, and running at 2
am - unless naked or loaded with drink - is almost
never described this way.
But then we set of. Martin and I were run-
ning, while Anatoly was up front on the bike. The
road was mostly abandoned, illuminated only by
marshrutka light, while the cool air on my skin
and the sounds of nature broke up the jogging
monotony. Halfway through the race I removed
my First International Issyk-Kul Relay Race shirt
and let the dawn air lick against my tattooed
thorax. The camera flming me posed a dilemma,
though. How to look cool while running, rather
than resembling a weakling clinging onto life it-
self? Still, I fnished my frst fve km stint exhilarat-
ed and came to an understanding of the runners
high for the frst time. Who would be watching
this documentary anyway?
Then I hitched a ride in the teams
Attempted sleep in the marshrutka followed,
the sun rose, and Issyk-Kul became visible. Inter-
mittent snoozes prevented me from seeing all
the southern shore that morning, but the parts I
was awake for were quite spectacular. After nap-
ping in the van like a baby, there was more bik-
ing and running ahead, this time in full daylight.
Under the glare of day, time slowed down. Have I
really not done my fve km stint? I would ask my-
self? Eventually the marshrutka came to me like
an angel answering my prayers, but Captain Mar-
tin, playing the role of the devil, popped out and
informed me that while I had gone a little over
seven km at that point, my teammates thought I
should do another three while they kicked back.
Now with something to prove and a heavy layer
of sweat on my body, I made it to ten - tired, hun-
gry and slightly irritable.
Later I caught up with the marshrutka, whose
driver I was forced to wake up, and he told me
that the others were down by the lake enjoying a
stroll, having lost track of time and me. Once we
gathered again we did some more running and
endured a windy bike ride, before arriving at the
orphanage that we were raising money for. A tour
of the grounds ensued, a meet and greet with the
women running the place, a lovely dinner of plov,
and a session with some of the kids, who I ser-
enaded with my komuz. It made for a nice end to
the day.
I woke up that morning at four, feeling like
Some black tea with bread and sweets at
our hostel would be the prelude to the north-
ern half of the relay. After a short nap in the van,
I ran my frst fve km, passing through a village
where the locals stared at the strange, tattooed
white person running and sweating in a way
that wasnt fully normal. Despite the scrutiny of
The road was mostly aban-
doned, illuminated only by
marshrutka light, while the cool
air on my skin and the sounds of
nature broke up the jogging mo-
their awkward gawking I made a time of about
26 minutes, improving on my previous record
from the day before. We passed through a host
of familiar resort towns before driving the last
leg towards Balykchy. I then took to the bike for
the home strait, even though faster folks in our
team could probably have improved our overall
time. The road in Balykchy was bumpy and I felt
an intense pelvic pain that I had never before ex-
perienced and hope to never experience again. I
met the marshrutka and waited for the camera-
man to go to the fnishing point and flm our fnal
collective run. The pain in my legs while running
that last hundred or so meters was like the feeling
of concrete being poured into my calves while
my knees were being pulled out of my legs. We
reached the end of our relay, tired, happy, and
full of a sense of accomplishment as we posed for
obligatory group photos. We slowly got back into
the minibuses and headed on towards Bishkek,
stopping for a bite to eat. Fried lamb dumplings
and Arpa beer had never tasted so good.
If you are in Kyrgyzstan for long enough, and
the weather is nice, you really should check out
Issyk-Kul. The southern shore has incredible red
rock mountains and some amazing nature. The
north is flled with tourist resorts and has a more
networked feel to it. I guess that after running and
biking around the lake I now have a bigger appre-
ciation for the eye of the Tian-Shan, and the scen-
ery certainly made the physical toll of the event
more tolerable. All in all, my advice to any Kyrgyz-
stan visitor is to go and explore every nook of this
giant aqueous treasure, but to perhaps warm up
with a horse ride or a swim before attempting to
relay around the whole kaboosh.
February 2013 The Spektator
16 Body & Soul
years on after the April 2010 revolution
And nothing, says Meder, thirty-
two. Everything became more expen-
sive, thats all. Only our salaries stayed the same.
His colleague, Asan, agrees. We have to work two,
three, maybe four jobs.
It is not uncommon to hear this in Kyrgyzstan;
however, what is unusual is that these two men are
both highly qualifed medical specialists, working
in one of Bishkeks most prestigious hospitals.
Meder has three jobs: he is a full-time re-
searcher in the hospital, sees private patients after
working hours, and conducts health checks for
an international company, seeing around twelve
company employees each month. His research
position pays him $US100 per month, just under
half the average monthly wage in Bishkek. Even
combined with the money his wife earns work-
ing as a full-time medical technician, this is not
enough to rent his two-room, refurbished Soviet
apartment, and to feed, clothe and send his two
young children to school. But with his two addi-
tional jobs, and working twelve hour days, Meder
can make $US300-400 per month, saving a little
money for an occasional movie ticket and for an
annual summer holiday to Lake Issyk-kol.
A small salary breeds a creative and diverse
entrepreneurship among medical professionals.
One doctor in Meders department has comman-
deered the medical equipment donated to the
hospital. Using this machine, he can see ffteen
rather than ten patients per day, and each patient
pays him a little extra for the privilege. This ena-
bles him to buy his way out of the two night shifts
he is obliged to work per month, paying his col-
leagues 800-1000 som ($US16-21) to take his shift.
Another doctor has found a patient base among
organized crime fgures: a wealthy group, they
can pay him more. Other doctors press hospital
patients for gratitude donations of between 500-
2000 som ($US11-42), and often blatantly refuse
to treat patients who do not provide upfront cash
Down an eerily quiet and dimly lit corridor,
walls washed with that distinctly Soviet blue, we
pass a sign declaring that doctors are prohibited
from seeing private patients. I only see private
patients after hours, says Meder, and so, its not
strictly forbidden. I have a good relationship with
the head of my department, who considers me a
valuable doctor, and he understands that I cant
live on my hospital salary alone. So its tolerated.
And then there are the nurses, working forty-
hour weeks for $US65 per month.
I wonder what they do to make enough
money to live, Meder muses. They have children,
and many of them are divorced.
Deep in the hospital, in a sparsely equipped
staf room, two young nurses, Cholpon and Alona,
sit around a table, Cholpon fumbling with a syringe
packet on a lone metal trolley. Im not happy with
the conditions, says Alona, but I can bear it.
Alonas sister works abroad, sending money
back to her family in Kyrgyzstan. Coupling this
with limited fnancial support from her parents,
Alona can survive. She and Cholpon have consid-
ered working outside of Kyrgyzstan all nurses
have but these young women would only con-
sider it a temporary arrangement.
Maybe I would work for fve or ten years
abroad, but Id defnitely return. At the moment,
though, I need to consider my options more care-
fully, Cholpon says.
Many doctors are also looking for better lives
elsewhere. Low pay, clan rivalry within the hospi-
tal system, and poor conditions have sent many
doctors abroad. A 2008 research paper published
by the World Health Organisation reported that
eight percent of health specialists left Kyrgyzstan
in 2005, following the so-called Tulip Revolution.
There have been no further ofcial investigations
into this phenomenon, but anecdotal evidence
suggests the problem is growing, particularly af-
ter the April 2010 revolution. Kazakhstan and Rus-
sia are the most popular options for immigration,
where doctors can earn a salary fve to ten times
greater than in Kyrgyzstan. However, rumor has it
that overt racism towards Kyrgyz citizens in Rus-
sian and Kazakhstan makes new arrivals feel un-
dervalued and unwelcome.
Is it better to leave Kyrgyzstan for a hard life
in Kazakhstan? Meder ponders. I would do it for
the sake of my children!
But for now, there is some stability in the
situation being temporarily bearable. Meder feels
obliged to care for his patients, there are possibili-
ties of promotions and jobs that his parents or rel-
atives might be able to arrange, and he is hesitant
about uprooting his family.
Meder sighs: Every day I become more pessi-
mistic. What is the future for medical professionals
in my country?
The names used in this article have been
changed to protect the identities of the people inter-
Aftter being touched by the soul-searching of lo-
cal Bishkek doctors, the Spektators Adeline Bell
decided to take a look at the other side, and went
talking to a couple of Bishkeks patients, collect-
ing the following stories
Sergei, 31:
A few years ago I fell of my bike and split my
chin open. I got up, staggered around, and re-
alised that I was quite close to a military hospital.
I pushed my bike towards the hospital, holding
my chin together, and asked the doctor on call
for help.
We dont have anything to help you,was his
response.You have to go to Bishkek.
Cant you just bandage me up? I asked,
clearly very distressed.
Well if you buy it yourself we can fx you
up with some sticky tape, if you want. Then you
need to go to Bishkek.
After getting a roll from a nearby kiosk the
doctor wrapped my head up in tape, but I was still
bleeding furiously. I got on my bike and cycled
into Bishkek to a local hospital in my area. When
it was my turn, I went into the doctors examina-
tion room. He was sitting there very calmly. It was
obvious that I needed urgent surgery for my chin,
even if simply to stop the bleeding. At that stage
it was about two hours since Id had the accident.
The doctor looked at me and said, You are
going to need a very expensive operation. He
quoted me the price. Of course I said yes! I told
him I assured him that I could get the money
from my relatives.
After a bit of discussion about that, the doc-
tor said, But you know, if you only have that op-
eration, you will have a big scar on your chin for
the rest of your life. So in this case, you will want
a diferent operation, one that doesnt leave any
scar. That operation will cost And again, he
quoted me a price, about double the previous
Obviously I again agreed, and once again as-
sured him that my relatives could get the money.
But the doctor sat back, still calm, and said, Well,
frst we need to wait for your relatives to come
with the money. Then we can do the operation.
But Im loosing so much blood!I yelled. The
doctor looked at me.
Youve got at least two more hours,he said.
Elena, 24:
When I was a child my younger sister, Zhenya,
knocked out a tooth, causing blood to violently
spurt from her mouth. Our parents werent at
home so I diligently took Zhenya to the local
hospital myself. We were two little girls sitting
in the waiting room, and every time the doctor
came past I cried out to him, My sister is bleed-
ing a lot from her mouth! Please help us! But the
doctor walked past, again and again, and took
no notice. Zhenya was feeling awful and faint,
and a long time after we arrived, the doctor f-
nally decided to pay some attention to her. He
opened her mouth and was really shocked at
what he saw. He said to me, This is really dan-
gerous! Shes lost a lot of blood! Why didnt you
tell me this before?!
The Waiting Room
Poverty & Politics
This winter Adeline Bell took a walk down the halls of some of the Kyrgyz Capitals fn-
est medical institutions and found that George Clooney and Hologic Discovery Ci Bone
Densitometers were in short supply. Still, Kyrgyzstans overworked underpaid doctors
are doing what they can to get by.
February 2013 The Spektator
ESS THAN A YEAR had elapsed since our
travels in Turkestan and we were already
back on the road, in search of another
fragment of forgotten history. This time,
our destination was the high-altitude holy
place of Saimaluu-Tash. Our tour needed to be
carefully planned as we were heading through
country where the feet of ordinary tourists rarely
stepped. It must be said that we sufered some
small incidents during our tour but, of course,
what is an adventure without a dash of struggle
and hardship?
The route to Saimaluu-Tash gorge, lost in the
muddle of the Tian-Shan Mountains, was long and
demanding, even for the most trained and expe-
rienced members of the expedition. After reach-
ing Naryn, we struck west to Kazarman in Jalal-
Abad oblast, a town seemingly lost to the world,
serviced neither by plane nor by train, and linked
to civilization only by a long and winding road,
often little better than a dirt track. This dirt track,
infnitely rutted so as to give the impression that
one is driving across a never ending wash-board,
we negotiated for two hundred kilometres. On the
way, we regularly passed locals traveling the same
route by bullocks or donkeys and carts a grueling
journey that takes several days. From time to time,
we also encountered the slightly less traditional
but ever popular Audi 100s, usually of a 1980s vin-
tage, which intermittently bounced past as they
overtook us on the lofty, serpentine path.
Because of the famous Makmal gold feld not
far away, Kazarman is a little reminiscent of the
forgotten towns of the Wild West. Due in part to
the existence of the mining operation, the settle-
ment is replete with illicit personalities, small time
Vladimir Petrov recounts his journey to
Saimaluu-Tash, the home of over 20,000
rock drawings. With pilgrims having visited
the site from 2000 B.C up until the Middle
Ages, Saimaluu-Tash is undoubtedly a her-
itage highlight of global signifcance. Nev-
ertheless, as Petrov would learn, fnding a
local that can still remember the route is
something of a challenge.
hoods and unpredictable xenophobes. When we
entered the town, our bus attracted the local po-
lices attention immediately. After catching up
with us near our guest house, the curious patrol
was eventually persuaded that our intentions
were benign, and they let us be, but not before
issuing fair warning about the unfriendliness of
the local criminal outft. Allegedly, this mob had
a penchant for robbing cars when stationary and
pelting them with stones when moving.
As we explored the town we felt the hun-
gry gaze of the townsmen. At times the poverty
around us was grinding. Constantly, we asked
ourselves: Where do people work, how do they
earn their bread? But we had no answer to our
questions. According to a local hotel proprietress,
the town owed its life to Malmak. If not for that
mine, it would have been the end of the world.
Yet from somewhere in this town and its wretch-
ed surroundings, we had need to fnd ourselves
a guide.
Guide me to nowhere
In the morning, having had breakfast, we got shot
of the miserable place. After covering some fat
ground we arrived in Atai, not far from the mine-
shaft itself, and engaged two enterprising young
men, Mamat and Bakyt, in the capacity of guides.
After the village the road became steeper and our
trek began in earnest. The sky was covered with
clouds, it was cold, and it seemed rain was in the
air. But scarcely had we climbed the Kek-Art pass,
when the rain clouds dispersed and we felt the
early September sun on our faces.
Neither of our guides aroused a lot of trust
during the early hours of our great endeavor,
Above and right Saimaluu-Tash has some
of the best petroglyphs under the sky. If
you can nd the damned place (all photos
Vladimir Petrov. Special note: This article was
translated by Elena Gorbacheva) February 2013 The Spektator
and we had to consult a map every now and
then in order not to deviate from the route. They
trudged forward blankly, and since they didnt
speak a word of Russian, body language became
our only means of communication. Later, alas,
our fears were justifed. They had no frst-hand
knowledge of the route and had never climbed
up to the plateau. Their urge to help us was out
of nothing more than the banal desire to make
Luckily, on the way to Saimaluu-Tash gorge
we encountered a local shepherd, Myrzabay, who
had an apiary not far away. The old man agreed to
help transport some of our equipment and loaned
us two horses and donkey for a small fee. Then,
as we arranged to meet him at base camp, he im-
parted a legend for our beneft, the gist of which
was Woe betide you if we disturbed any of the in-
scribed stones, as they would vanish, and our souls
would be disappear with them. Dont disturb our
ancestors, dont touch their messages! concluded
the old man at the end of his ramble.
Towards the evening we fnally got to the
place where we planned to make camp. A little
later Myrzabay came with our equipment. Having
entered into conversation with the old man, we
found out that he was a local gamekeeper and
he knew the mountain paths like the back of his
hand. Having agreed to meet in the morning and
assist us on our path to the sun, Mamat, Bakyt and
Myrzabay left us in solitude to enjoy the enchant-
ed nature of the Fergana range.
The nature of Saimaluu-Tash gorge goes be-
yond the repetition of ordinary mountain scen-
ery. A magical aura cloaks the range in a veil of
mystery, flling it with the wonderful fragrance of
fowers that make you giddy. Vegetation engulfs
you. The narrow, snaking road was hardly visible
among the thick, elevated bushes of wormwood,
hemp and wild leek.
The waste lands of Naryn oblast, where we
could see small villages broadly scattered, lay to
the north of our path, while the abundant val-
leys of Fergana were to the south. Here, pome-
granate, quince and fg throbbed in the allot-
ments we walked past. The bazaars were still
over-laden with melons and watermelons, grape
and persimmon would ripen by the fall. This re-
gion, in many ways, is the centre of Kyrgyzstans
divided heart.
Over a samovar of tea we planned our long
tomorrow. We would have to climb steep slopes.
The path was a narrow corridor on one side a
vertical mountain face on the other, a rapid river.
The passage would be difcult enough, even for
the mountaineers in our number.
A cold wind stirred up at night, full of fore-
boding. It seemed a shaitan (demon) would re-
move our tent from the face of the earth before
he admitted us to the holy place. The old man
might well have been right. But in the frst light
of the morning, as Mamat and Bakyt emerged
roguishly over the brow of a hill, arguing violently
about something perhaps our route - the old
man was nowhere to be seen.
Where is Myrzabay? we asked.
The shepherd sent us, he stays on the apiary to
make honey, explained one of the guides bluntly
in miraculously remembered Russian.
The workshop of consciousness
We started our ascent up along the twisting
path from the camp to the pass. Step by step
the bushes of wild leek disappeared; the slopes
were covered with stars of edelweiss and the
ground gave out a honeyed scent. We climbed
down to the moraine; there was an ice bridge
ahead and a long passage after it. We had to
leave the horses and go further on foot. There
was a snowfeld and beyond it, alpine meadows
rose up, ethereally. Just one more snowfeld, I
cried. One more snowfeld and one more ascent
onto the plateau - a little bit higher would be
When we reached the holy place, set in a jag-
ged valley pacifed by a strip of lake, the stones
we had come to see greeted us, shining black
from millennia basking in the sun, their surface a
canvas for ancient artists. Each stone had its his-
tory. Straight clear lines could be distinctly seen
on the polished bluish surface of basalt stones.
Indeed the petroglyphs at Saimaluu-Tash are
among the most ancient and photogenic in all
of Central Asia. Wordlessly, they narrate a time
of religion, spiritual life and the everyday trials
of the people who once inhabited these lands.
The frst thing that struck the eye were the twist-
ing lines represented on the stones. We remem-
bered at once the serpentine road along which
we had hiked the day before.
Woe betide us if we disturbed any
of the inscribed stones, as they would
vanish, and our souls would be disap-
pear with them
February 2013 The Spektator
Above Local guides arent always as inform-
ative or knowledgeable as you would hope.
This one, Mamat, has almost no knowledge
at all
At various times, scientists have speculated
that these lines represented mountain ranges
and rivers. But precisely because we reached the
precipice by foot we beg to difer! If these lines
are rivers, why are they thus represented, some-
times as one and at other times three lines? If
they are summits,
then why do scenes
of tillage levitate in
the sky while the disc
of the sun bobs un-
der the mountain?
And why are moun-
tain ranges painted as
closed lines? Twisting
lines are encountered
on the petroglyphs of Saimaluu-Tash more of-
ten than anywhere else. While they are by no
means unique to this Central Asian holy spot,
we can state for sure that they occur much less
frequently in the lower-situated sanctuaries, the
petroglyphs of Issyk-Kuls Skazka valley, for in-
stance. Maybe ancient artists passing from the
foot up to the summit saw these lines as their
way to the sky, to the sun, to the only mountain
which was for them the Sun Mountain.
A great number of the solar signs convinced
us that sun-worship was the leading form of
religion for a long time here. The sun cult is evi-
dent in common circles, swastika-like symbols
and more obvious depictions of the sun. Indeed,
even animals horns are twisted in the form of the
sun, and a sun chariot also features. But above all,
fortune helped us to fnd that rare image which
has become a cherished symbol of all Kyrgyz
petroglyphys the sun boy whose loose hair
splays out like solar rays.
Centuries passed, pictures disappeared
from the stones, but new generations of pil-
grims climbed Saimaluu-Tash and renewed the
pictures as evidence of the constancy of their
faith. And a thousand years later, when the Saks
lived, they visited the sanctuary and added im-
ages made in a famous animal style, widely
spread along the steppe cattle-breeding area
of Eurasia from Mongolia and northern China
to the northern Black
Sea region. But these
pictures are few and
we can suppose that
at a certain point,
sometime after the
Bronze Age, the place
ceased to be a sanctu-
ary. Nevertheless the
life hasnt died away.
These places have always been considered sa-
cred. It was forbidden to destroy petroglyphs.
Older residents told of diferent legends about
these mountains and even now there are old
people alive who remember stories of devout
sun-worshippers climbing the gorge, disappear-
ing behind the 3,000m Kugart pass and ofering
up sacrifcial gifts to the gods.
Our way to the sun was far from unique,
rather it was the repetition of a trip that has been
made for millennia. A store of knowledge, Saimal-
uu-Tash can be the solution to many of the puz-
zles connected with the origins of ancient art on
the territory of modern Kyrgyzstan, if and when
the carvings left by diferent peoples - nomadic
types from the north, settled farmers from the
south are given proper attention. As witnessed
in the scenes depicted there, the various pilgrims
to this place difered both in terms of the deities
they worshipped and the way they earned their
livelihoods. But if they were united by one thing,
it was the Sun Mountain itself, a benevolent host
to one of the earliest and most enduring forms
of human communication.
Centuries passed, pictures disap-
peared from the stones, but new gen-
erations of pilgrims climbed Saimal-
uu-Tash and renewed the pictures as
evidence of the constancy of their faith
February 2013 The Spektator
Red Light Guide
hen it comes to selling sex
there are few cities that break
the codes of their own societys
conservatism as frequently as
the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. But
while the odd local will shame-
lessly talk up his sauna sessions with young
girls, the silent majority of male Bishkek resi-
dents indulging in prostitution, or its safer sis-
ter, striptease, tend to keep their adventures to
This situation leads to a real absence of de-
cent information on a burgeoning industry
one of few in the country and the dimly red-lit
corners of Bishkeks nightlife have so far escaped
the Spektator spotlight. Until now, that is.
In terms of strip clubs Bishkek pales in com-
parison to a Vegas, Prague or Bangkok, but for
the biggest little city in Central Asia, it sports
at least five venues that boast an impressive
spectrum of nationalities, services, and atmo-
spheres. In all five you will find Kyrgyzstans fa-
mous natural beauty on display, but unlike the
mountain air, it comes at a price.
Entrance for these clubs ranges from 500
to 1000 som and thats just the beginning of
the damage. Private dances can be up to $100
dollars for 15 minutes, pole dancers show you
a few seconds of love for no less than 100
som, and often the girls work your wallet for
expensive cocktails from the bar. The best ac-
tion money can buy will cost near $150, and
depending on the location, will usually consist
of two girls of your choosing putting on a show
for you involving tequila, whipped cream,
and an artificial phallus, appropriately named
While experts in the field agree that Bish-
kek may not be as price competitive as it once
was, regulation is still nowhere like it is in the
United States. Here you will get great millage
quality of dance measured in units of touchy-
As the day of lovers nears, Spektator Sleaze
Correspondent J.R.R Broken has ad-
journed from his usual commitments to
give you the Frunze feeldown on the citys
hottest and nottest strip bars. Disclaimer:
this magazine does not in any way endorse
sexism, feminism, fascism, socialism or any
other ism that appears on its pages.
feelyin exchange for the soms that you shell.
So with the basics over with, on to the inti-
mate details:
Arbat The Bishkek Institution
(Karl Marx/Zhugulovskaya)
When I started asking around about strip clubs
in Bishkek, the first word that came out of most
taxi drivers mouths was Arbat. Arbat is a Bish-
kek institution, and having operated for several
years theyre on a par with Demir Bank as one of
the few businesses that have actually survived
two revolutions. The strip club is a specialist
backroom that smacks you with a 900 som fee
on entry. Sometimes you get frisked by a dude
on your way in - a real turn off - but Arbats lofty
cover charge keeps it sparsely populated, so
you wont have to worry about competing for
a girls attention with too many other jackasses.
The weekends are generally when the club has
the best line up, but the summer can be hit and
miss, since a lot of these girls travel to Issyk-Kul
as paid company.
Shpilka (High Heel) - Last Resort Sleaze
(Vostok-5 before Club Zeppelin on Chuy)
Located in the east of Bishkek near the Indus-
trial Zone, Shpilka is ironically filled with girls
from the countryside. Hospitable, if somewhat
coarse, this establishment is not for first timers
looking to bed themselves into Bishkeks ooch-
ie-walla-walla scene.
Dolls Top Dollar for Top Service
(Gorkova/Sovietskaya across from Vefa Center)
One of the best strip clubs in Bishkek, with a
good rotation of girls, mostly foreign clientele
and a 500 com entrance fee. In an industry of
hit-and-miss, the crme de la crme of Bish-
keks strip club connoisseurs choose this place
for their slide and grind. Almost any night of
the week you can count on at least five girls. February 2013 The Spektator
Keep track of your drinks, however, since the
dancers like to hit you up for expensive cock-
tails. Despite the cost of the drinking and the
dancing, you do get what you pay for poetry-
in-motion pole work and lots of interaction.
Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, and all.
xXx The New Kid on the Block
(Manas/Kievskaya located right next to Domino
Strategically placed within stumbling distance
of the Metro pub I was always curious why a
strip club hadnt sprung up earlier in this area.
Entrance is 500 som and based off of my single
impression there, it has the potential to give
the dolls from Dolls a run for their money. Its
prices are near identical to the Gorkova girl-
stop, but a luxurious VIP/Lap dance room
makes it a hit in my book. More of a looking
place than a touching place, however, and un-
less you have an extra $50 spare, or feel brave
in front of bouncers that are quick with their
hands if you are careless with yours, stick to
An Unexpected Discovery
Literally, a day before I was supposed to turn in
this article in, a life changing and unexpected
discovery took place that I feel has raised the
bar for all strip clubs in Bishkek. In the small
hours of a fairly average drunken night in Retro
Metro, my friend and I called in our bill. Just as
we stand up a pair of girls walk in who seem
very American in their mannerisms and vol-
ume. One of them was an extremely attractive
red head, who caught my friends attention, so
we went up to go talk to them. Turns out they
were actually Russian, but friendly enough. Af-
ter more drinks they convinced us to stay and
hang out.
Fast forward about an hour and were get-
ting driven to a strip club - I assumed Dolls. But
upon driving past Dolls and stopping in the
unlit, empty parking lot of a furniture store,
I began to sense foul play, assuming we had
been set up and that these girls boyfriends
would soon come and relieve us of our cash in
a WhamBamThankYouMam kind of way. Guid-
ed down a dark stairwell into a basement my
spider senses were ablaze, my short Bishkek
existence hanging on a thread. But.
To my amazement the door flung open to
the roar of club music, a beautiful interior, with
a sleeping security guard and no cover charge.
A reasonably priced drink menu greeted us
along with a cadre of young women who be-
gan simultaneously working the poles and
our unsuspecting laps without even having to
flash the cash. Our two companions somehow
knew all the women who worked there - but
we didnt ask - why ruin a good thing? It wasnt
until about 8am that the party finally stopped
and for minimum expense we had received
hours of entertainment and lap dances.
Unknown The Potential Game Changer
(Hidden beneath a furniture store near the
Gorkova/Sovietskaya crossing)
Have you ever wanted to buy a new coffee ta-
ble and thought that the one thing that could
really improve the experience would be if you
were within spitting distance of naked wom-
en? Well, look no further! This could be a game
changer for the strip club scene for several
reasons: the lack of cover charge, the near per-
fect nature of the club itself, and the value for
money. This unnamed institution features four
stages, a full bar, comfortable leather couches
and a decent line up of girls. The pick of the
pack is straight out of Baywatch, buxom and
blonde in a sweet spandex outfit, with a whip
of a hair flip that will leave you feeling like you
stepped in front of a fan. I seedily recommend
this place, even for those who arent necessari-
ly fans of strip clubs its a real blast and one of
the only true all night party spots in town.
For the Ladies
Above Some of Bishkeks best dancers can
put Olympic athletes to shame. Not that ei-
ther of these are from Bishkek, mind (archive)
Red Light Guide
Just to stress that the Spektator is an equal
opportunities tourist magazine, we went to
the trouble of fnding out where ladies can
get their fll of late night sleaze as well. Ac-
cording to our sources at Kings Bar (Gogol/
Frunze,, 0779550550) there is
at least one institution in the capital that has
male striptease.
While the local administrator could not tell
us whether or not Kyrgyzstans most oiled
up studs do the Full Monty or not, she did
confrm that Ladies only events take place
at least twice a month and that entry for the
fairer sex is free.
That is in contrast to an average night at
Kings, which according to our man J.R.R is
anything but cheap. Heres what he had to
say about the spot:
Currently the hottest new club in Bishkek,
flled with the young, irresponsible and en-
titled children of Bishkeks elite, youll be sure
to feel out classed in anything lest than your
western fnest. The prices are high but the
music and atmosphere are hard to beat. En-
trance starts at 1000 com and moves up from
Food-wise dishes are pricy - 550 soms for a
fsh and meat assorti, but that is ofset by a
30% discount on food 18.00-20.00 on week
days. As the Spektator went to press over
2,000 people had liked Kings Facebook page
- roughly1,800 more than the number that
have liked ours. They must be doing some-
thing right!
February 2013 The Spektator
$ - Expect change from 300 som
$$ - In the region of 300-500 som
$$$ - Expect to pay more than 500
As you would probably guess, decorated with
movie posters, photos of cinema icons and a
bunch of American kitsch. Hollywood is popu-
lar with a younger crowd and is usually packed
from mid-evening onwards. A fun place for a few
drinks before heading off to the clubs. $
Metro* (133, Chui)
In the impressive location of a former theatre, Metro
remains the premire drinking hole for ex-pats. A
high ceiling, a long bar and friendly staf compli-
ment a good Tex-Mex menu and a wide selection
of drinks. Metro is one of the best bets for catch-
ing sporting events on TV, although thanks to the
hideously late kickof times for Champions League
football matches, dont count on the staf waiting up
unless its a big one. $$$
Mexican Canteena (Chui 158, near Beta Stores)
At its best in the summer as sombrero classics ser-
enade pedestrians down Chui and a mixed crowd
sits on the porch washing down tacos with strong
marguirita. Burritos and fajitas are mouth-watering
here, and long-haired gringo types will be glad to
have their beer served with a lemon, not a straw. $$
Smokies (Donetskaya/Jukeeva Pudovkina)
Bishkeks first and only traditional American
barbecue restaurant serves pit-smoked spicy
beef brisket, ribs, pork shoulder, lamb legs and
chicken quarters. Well worth the trek out to Or-
to-Sai market in the cooler half of the city. Enjoy
a range of cocktails and spirits, too. $$
Landau (Manas/Gorky)
Fancy something a little diferent? If you can tol-
erate the arthritic service, Landau isnt a bad spot
for a pork steak or some other Armenian culinary
goodies. Also, treat yourself to some decent Arme-
nian conjac whilst your here, youll never go near
Bishkek conjac again. Ever. $$
Bars and Restaurants
As the Spektatior is still dusting the cobwebs of
its shoulders and rubbing the sleep from its eyes
after its year-long enforced hibernation, the guide
is yet to get up to full speed. In the meantime, this
abridged guide should keep you going until spring.
Be aware that NEW may mean new to the guide,
rather than the capital...
As ever, theres a fne line between bar and
restaurant in Bishkek. Places more suitable for
drinking sessions are marked with a star *
Price Guide (main course, garnish, beer)
Chuchuara Hoga (117, Chui)
With this Chinese restaurant, a little out of the way
and rarely visited by tourists, you really feel you
are getting the real deal. Request a (your own
personal Chinese boiling-pot) and randomly select
a variety of unusual Chinese delicacies to throw in.
Beware, the spicy sauce, although delicious, may
leave delicate stomachs in some distress several
hours later - consider the not-spicy sauce as a suit-
able alternative $$
Free semechki is one of many reasons to check out
this lively hangout, rammed with Chinese at lunch
and dinner time. The menu is encyclopediac in
scope, but if youre feeling bewildered, just point
to something tasty-looking on a neighbouring
table like we did. $$
China Town NEW
Open since last December, this joint is the real
deal - two metre terracota warriors even feature in
the decor. Pricier than the other Bishkek Chinese
spots but overwhelmingly better. We are hoping
that they fx up an English menu in time for sum-
mer, when the outdoor deck will be yet another
sell. Straight to the top of the class! $$$
Shaolin (Zhibek Zholu/Prospect Mir)
This tidy looking restaurant sticks out for its sheer
range of oriental dishes and its large, round tables that
make it ideal for extended gatherings. $$
(TeplIkluchy village)
Wooden cabin located by a rushing stream thirty min-
utes out of town. The overpriced food is more than
compensated for by the chilled atmosphere and wild
surroundings. Hotel accommodation also available.
Head south on Almatinskaya and keep going. $$$
Barcode* (Toktogul/Sovietskaya, inside Moto)
A hip interior and an afordable business lunch
have made Barcode something of a hotspot since
it opened in early 2010. The place comes to life at
night when 3 DJs compete for your afections. $$
Blonder Pub is the new brewery-restaurant to try
out. Cavernous yet cosy inside, theres decent blues
every night, live Premiership Football, Eurogrub
and a good selection of ales. In regard to the latter
we recommend Datski Schnafer. $$$
Buddha Bar (Sovietskaya/Akhunbayeva)
Buddha bar ofers a taste of the East inside a tastefully
constructed zen log cabin. The sushi is excellent, and
for those on a budget, the stir-fry noodle dishes make
an excellent lunch. Recommended! $$$
Cave NEW (Gorkova, close to Sovietskaya)
Wow. To be honest we arent sure what the food is
like here - we spent most of the evening supping
mulled wine and gazing at the hundreds of wooden
cranes poetically suspended from the ceiling. The
wine is decent, but the latterr are revolutionary by
Bishkeks base artistic standards. $$
City Movie Bar (By Ala Too Square on Kievskaya)
Movies outdoor patio is well positioned to peo-
ple-watch on Bishkeks equivalent of the Champs-
Elysees. Order veal in a puf-pastry casing with-
creamy mushroom sauce - you wont regret it. $$$
European / International
Coee House (9, Manas & Togolok Moldo/Ryskulova)
Treat yourself to some of the fnest cofee and cakes
Bishkek has to ofer at one of three Cofee Houses;
cosy boutique cafs with a European favour. Curl
up and read a book, or just drop in for a cafeine hit
and a chocolate fx. $$
(338a, Frunze)
One of our favourite places to drink in the Summer-
time, when we can aford it. Outdoor balcony-cum-
terrace high above the street with slouch-couches
and fne views of the circus - which you can some-
times smell in hot weather. Nice. $$$
Civilized, friendly cafe bang in the middle of town
and a popular ex-pat meeting point. Sensible spot
for conversation, but if youre alone theres a mini-
library to peruse (although literary classics are thin
on the ground). Check out the American pancakes
for breakfast, top marks. $$
Four Seasons (116a, Tynystanova)
One of the poshest places to eat out in Bishkek. El-
egant, yet modern interior and polite service. Great
place to splash out on a special occasion or just for
the hell of it. $$$
Foyer (27, Erkindik )
Foyer is an excellent place to enjoy an evening
cocktail or check your inbox with a cup of cofee.
Free Wi-Fi, good deserts and blues on Tuesdays. $$
(Asenbai region, next to City Club)
We watched a band called Liquid Cactus play here
and admired the old Soviet paraphenalia hanging
on the walls. Lenin makes an appearance outside
the bogs and you can get Spektator favourite Ven-
skoye on tap. Good beer snacks and the burgers
arent bad either. Nice for a theme night out. $$
Grion (Microregion 7)
A cosy log-cabin afair with a large meat-roasting
central freplace. On one disturbing occasion the
waiting staf were about as plesant as a bunch
of chavs, but hopefully that was a passing phase.
Minibuses 195 and 110 take you right past it as you
head out to the mountains. $$$
Twenty-four hour sports bar with live music at
weekends. Plenty of leather couches provide the
ideal place to sip cocktails whilst watching the
Champions league at three in the morning. $$$
(103, Moskovskaya)
A pricy, but pleasant place to while away an after-
noon. Sit in the bar area over a beer or lounge in the
airy non-smoking conservatory. Attentive service
and a refreshing selection of salads, a good place
for a light, healthy lunch when fat and grease are
getting you down. $$$
Pinta Pub* (Lenin/Manas)
Pinta Pub is a bright green lighthouse for the Spekta-
tor on a hot day. With a host of well-kept ales on tap,
the best grub here is pub grub with any pork or lamb
dish recommended. $$ February 2013 The Spektator
Johnny Pub * NEW (Toktogul/Orozbaeva)
A buzzing centrally-located cafe popular with a
mostly younger clientele, Jonny Pub is a good
place to load up on onion rings and fresh beer be-
fore moving on to a hukka pipe flled with absinthe
later in the evening. Last time we checked, the pub
had a resident cat, but since this creature seems to
rub some customers up the wrong way by touting
for scraps.... $$$
Rosso NEW (Shopokova/Ivanitsova
Rosso means red in Italian, and this bistros decor
is likely to make you feel like youve stepped inside
an artery. Once swamped in blood-coloured vel-
vet, however, you can order some tasty fried moz-
zarella cheese balls and a half-decent goulash. A
bland alfredo pasta and the feckless waiting staf
are drawbacks, but given Rosso has only opened
recently it is probably worth a shot. $$$
Sierra Cafe NEW (Manas 57)
A new expat favourite and with the Starbucks-
standard caramel macchiatos, the to-die-for Bel-
gian wafes and a mushroom soup which Spekta-
tor writer Thomas Olson describes as orgasmic, it
isnt difcult to see why. Sit with a group of mates,
a laptop or the latest copy of The Economist and
imagine that you are not in Bishkek. $$
(15, Panflova)
The concrete monstrosity of the Russian Theatre con-
ceals one of Bishkeks fnest attempts at a cosy base-
ment bar. Friendly staf, a decent menu and a collection
of old bits and bobs decorating the walls make Edgars
an attractive alternative to the citys mainstream cafs.
A blues band plays most nights and a pianist adds a ro-
mantic ambience on some Sunday evenings. $$
Bars, Restaurants & Clubs
Aoyama (93, Toktogula)
Elegant sushi joint frequented by serious looking
suited-types concluding their latest dodgy deals.
The foods excellent though - if you can scrape to-
gether enough soms. $$$
Beliaist NEW (Moskovskaya/Turuzbekova)
Watch your meat and vegetables fried in front of
you on an oval metal pan attached to your table.
Limited menu but a very, very cool experience. $$
Fusion (Vefa Centre, Sovietskaya/Gorkova)
Takeout is free on orders over 450 soms (0312 510
707). Teriaki chicken, Miso soup, sushi rolls and pork
in ginger sauce are all well worth a phone call. $$
Kyung Bok Kung NEW (30, Chui), Vostok 5)
Family-run and extremely popular among a small
circle of ex-pats, who begged us not to put it in here
for fear of ruining the secret - sorry guys, the game
is up. A seat at the dolls house table is a strictly
shoeless experience and can be awkward for the
long-legged. $$
Chong Gi Won (115, Chui), Vostok 5
Across the street from Kyung Bok Kung, our resident
Korean tells us this place isnt bad either. $$
Regional/Central Asian
LAzzurro (105, Ibraimova)
This is a delight, albeit a pricy one. If the plan is to
stick to Levantine treats then LAzzurro has the full
range, but we recommend dabbling in the fsh as
well. The grilled trout, in particular, is a winner. A
good place to take large parties. $$$
Beirut NEW (Sovietskaya/Mederova)
Relocation has made Beirut mor accessible to
Bishkeks southerners without afecting the quality
of the grub. Similar to LAzzurro in both price and
mezze, but service a tad shoddier. $$$
(Sovietskaya, opposite the Hyatt)
A varied and interesting menu including fne Indian
food make this place a real treat. On midweek days
there are also several excellent business lunch deals
ofering a soup, salad, main course and dessert for
250-350 som. A real stand out and a Spektator fa-
vourite! $$$
Pirogo-Vodkin (Kiev, 107)
Classy restaurant with a turn of the 20th century
atmosphere serving Russian specialities. Have your
tea in a giant samovar. $$$
Taras Bulba (Near the Yuzhniy Vorota on Sovietskaya)
Like all the Ukrainian restaurants weve tried in
Bishkek, Taras Bulba serves great food. We liked the
potato pancakes with caviar, the delicious soups
and fresh salads. $$
Ojak (On Erkindik between Moskovskaya, Toktogula)
Technically an Azerbaijanian, but dont let this fact
ruin the best value kebabs in town. The menu is
limited and if your Russian is too, just say kebab. $
Usta (Opposite the main mosque, Moscow street)
Probably the best of the lot, with the Usta Kebab
perhaps unsurprisingly the standout dish on the
menu. $$
Yusa (Logvinenko/Bokonbayeva)
The lavash is outstanding here, as are the range of
sauces that compliment a wide array of vegetable
and meat dishes. $$
Zaporyzhia (9, Prospect Mira)
Zaporyzhia is a cossack favoured restauraunt in
a varnish-scented log cabin. Hearty rustic dishes
and a homely atmosphere. The medovukha is rec-
ommended! $$$
Bukhara NEW (Shopokova 126, behind circus)
Bukharas menu overfows with the best Uzbek cuisine
has to ofer but also boasts a plethora of tasty salads,
making it a magnet for both the gourmand and the
grease-lover. The Bukhara salad, Kazanski kebab and
Dim-la-ma get the Spektators full endorsement. $$
Derevyashka* (Ryskulova, behind Dvorets Sporta)
Atmospheric drinking cabin that serves a range of
Central Asian and Russian cuisine, as well as an im-
pressive array of pivo. Well worth it on football nights,
when the locals are rather rowdy. $
Faiza I (Jibek Jolu/Prospect Mira)
Possibly the best place to munch traditional grub in
town. Their fried pelmeni and manti are so good that
they have often run out by supper-time. Save an
appetite and go early. Slightly more upmarket sister
restauraunt on Mederova/Tynastanova. $
Jalalabad (Togolok Moldo/Kievskaya)
Basically the cheapest food (that wont give you gut
rot) in the centre of town. Probably at its best in sum-
mer, when the shashlyk masters fanking the entrance
ofer their creations straight to guests sitting at East-
ern-style tables cross your legs and see how long
before cramp sets in. $
Sauporo (Kok-Jar Village) NEW
A veritable Kyrgyz disneyland. Manas greets you at a
dung-scented entrance, old men catch their supper
in a lake and waitresses in national dress bring out
things like beshbarmak po-Talaski. Not kosher. $$$
Tubeiteika (Moskovskaya/Turusbekova)
Hard to spell but great to eat at. The menu is well
beyond the traditional Central Asian scope, with nods
to China, Japan and Europe, too. We liked the Chinese
chicken, the sushi and the shashlyk. $$
Adriatico (219, Chui)
Reportedly sufering following the departure of
its Italian chef, Walter, although we have been told
that the soup is still excellent. $$$
Bella Italia (Kievskaya/K.Akiev)
Adriaticos former Italian chef, Walter, moved homes
and started serving a practically identical range of
dishes at this spot just behind October cinema. Enjoy
the best pizza in town, gnocci and other typical Italian
numbers, tasty business lunches from 200 soms.
Recommendations? Tortellini PPF or anything with
mushrooms. Where does he get them from? $$
Cyclone (136, Chui)
Smart Italian restaurant with plush interior, efcient,
polite serving staf and a warm atmosphere to al-
leviate Bishkeks winter chills. Pasta dishes stand out
among a menu of traditional Italian favourites. $$$
Dolce Vita (116a, Akhunbaeva)
Cosy Italian restaurant with smiling waitresses serv-
ing excellent, good value pizza. Also serves salads
and European cuisine. Small terrace outside for
summertime dining, but be warned, it flls up on
weekends. $$
(5, Gerzena)
Don your beer drinking trousers and head down
to Bishkeks take on a Bavarian-style beer hall. They
brew their own stuf - such a relief from the insipid
bilge thats normally sold as lager. Compliment your
pint with a plate of German sausage with sauerkraut.
Genetsvale NEW (Top of VEFA centre)
A marked improvement on the tepid Euro cuisine
of the old Veranda restaurant but khinkali lovers
will fnd the fare expensive. Still, what a view! $$$
Fortuna Jazz Club NEW (Orozbekov/Toktogul)
A Georgian restaurant and a jazz club? surely it
cant get better than this. Soak in the Salty Peanuts
- a band, not a meal, while you feast on khajapuri
and sweet Georgian wine. Aside from Caucasian
classics, the steaks arent bad either. $$
February 2013 The Spektator
26 The End
ALWAYS THOUGHT he looked like Ray Liotta,
but my drinking companions used to tell me
he reminded them more of David Hasslehof.
Either way, we were usually pissed when we
were having such conversations and so his
true likeness probably fell somewhere between
the two. Nevertheless, we were always in total
agreement that, whatever he looked like, Anton
was the proprietor of the best bar in Bishkek ever.
Beerloga number one was located very aptly
where Friendship street met Soviet street. What
made it such a great place for a drink? Well, there
were many things. Firstly, it was a self styled
Russian alpinist bar, and I am unable to imag-
ine better ways of spending time than drinking
vodka and picking at dried fsh in a damp Cen-
tral Asian basement whilst listening to Viktor Tsoi
hits amongst a jovial crowd of gnarly Russian
alpinists. The crowd wasnt only alpinistic, there
were Russian girls who danced, manic Korean
psychologists who babbled incoherently, Turk-
men exiles who arm wrestled, Soviet types who
brooded about social injustice, Ukrainians who
played chess, and, as time passed, a growing
band of foreign regulars. That was the special
thing about Beerloga, not only was the beer
twenty-fve som a pint and a sto gram of vodka
not much more, but all-comers were welcome. It
also had its amusing idiosyncrasies, my favourite
of which was Antons introduction of a ten som
fne for swearing in a futile attempt to protect his
elderly mothers ears from foul language; she be-
ing the cook who served up various home-style
fatty concoctions from her subterranean kitchen
through a hatch in the wall. Then add to the mix
the guitar, piano and trumpet in various states of
disrepair, so that every evening had the potential
to break out into an impromptu singsong of mo-
rose Russian ballads with the guitar being passed
around from troubadour to drunken troubadour.
As a surreal touch, the three underground
rooms were partially lined with cardboard tubes
painted as birch trunks, thus giving the efect that
one was sitting in an underground Siberian log
cabin. An efect that was only secured and further
maintained by serious binge drinking an activ-
ity Beerloga provided for perfectly. For a visitors
further enjoyment, the walls were adorned with
a small museums worth of Soviet mountaineer-
ing paraphernalia, with ice axes, boots, crampons,
etchings, pennants, and paintings, as well as An-
tons collection of expedition photographs taken
by his father back in the glory days. Other items
were harder to defne, such as a life size wicker
man who sat pensive and alone at an upturned
barrel in the corner.
I was a sad day, therefore, when Beerloga one
was forced to close. The building under which it
sat was bought by a consortium who wished to
raze it to the ground and build an elite block of
fats. However it was not to be the end. During the
spring of 2007 I caught glimpses of Anton running
up and down Sovietskaya , the frst time I had ever
seen him set foot above ground. There he was, like
a six-foot tall alcohol-purveying beaver, lovingly
transporting his painted cardboard tube forest,
piece by piece, on his shoulder, to a new basement
further down the street. Beerloga two was soon to
be unveiled.
Beerloga Two was my favourite. The entrance
was at the back of a small yard just of the south
east corner of Gorky and Soviet, an inconspicu-
ous unmarked doorway with an iron grille gate.
The pressing of a bell summoned Anton up from
the must of the underworld (a curiously satisfying
blend of spilt vodka, rising damp and cigarette
smoke) to unlock the gate. The lock-in policy was
at frst perplexing, but as Anton used to escort
every departing customer out of the yard on tip-
toes making shushing gestures, I think it was to
prevent any over exuberance spilling out from
inside, aggravating the neighbours and posing a
threat to any license he may or may not have had
to operate a bar.
Like any good sequel, Beerloga Two kept all
the best bits of the original but ofered some-
There he was, like a six-foot tall al-
cohol-purveying beaver, lovingly trans-
porting his painted cardboard tube for-
est, piece by piece, on his shoulder, to a
new basement further down the street
thing more. It was packed almost every night,
and anyone who drank there regularly will likely
never forget the four smoky rooms, the fetid toi-
let, the music, the chess matches, the gatherings
and the conversations. Anton was always sur-
prised that his modest bar proved such a draw
to foreigners, as if somehow he was oblivious to
having created a death-trap-drinking-den of such
unique magnifcence.
Yes, things could have been very diferent. As
Antons strategy of maintaining the peace with
his neighbours involved locking his drunken cli-
entele deep underground inside a one-exit base-
ment plastered in fammables I could have met
my end in a mass incineration. Luckily, as ignited
faux-birch tree, human crush and burned fesh
did not occur, I am free to reminisce with heady
and unblemished nostalgia.
Beerloga Two lasted about three years and
then, once more, Anton was forced to relocate.
This, however, was the beginning of the end.
Beerloga three was way out on Gorky Almatin-
skaya. It did have potential, being located under
a dilapidated and abandoned Soviet era factory,
but number three, with its higher ceilings, fewer
rooms, and blasphemous outdoor drinking ter-
race, never recaptured the warmth of the old
days. It disappeared in the summer of 2012 and
now I have heard only rumours concerning new
Beerlogas: four (by Ala Medin Bazaar) and fve (an
impractical-sounding incarnation in a residential
And so I implore you, dear reader: If you ever
see a man who looks like a cross between Ray Lio-
ta and David Hasslehof walking down the street
carrying a cardboard tube painted as a birch tree
on his shoulder, follow that man. Follow him,
because a new migration might be underway.
Most importantly, follow him to see which block
of fats he goes under and then let the Spektator
know. Because Bishkek is not Bishkek without a
Like the Spektator Magazine and the Art-
ist Formerly Known as Prince, Beerloga
has worked under a number of diferent
guises. Tom Wellings casts his mind
back over the potted history of Bishkeks
greatest drinking den.

You might also like